The Separation of Israel
The Separation of Israel as a Step Toward Worldwide Blessing
In the first article, I argued that God’s separation of Abraham is the foundation for His plan to restore worldwide blessing. The pattern of separation as a means of worldwide blessing continues in God’s work with Abraham’s family. In order to make this clear, I will explore the exodus from Egypt, the Mosaic Covenant, and the book of Leviticus.
Separation in the Exodus
In the exodus, God separates Abraham’s family from the pagan nation of Egypt and calls His chosen people to leave Egypt behind and go out from among their oppressors. The Israelite exodus from Egypt is used as an archetype of separation throughout the rest of the biblical story. Notably, the prophet Isaiah employs the exodus theme throughout his book. He foretells that God will decisively rescue His people through a second exodus. New Testament scholar Thomas Schreiner suggests, “The new exodus, then, becomes the means by which Yahweh establishes his kingdom.” The kingdom which brings salvation to the nations is established by a suffering servant. But that’s getting ahead of the story. Through the first exodus, God separated Israel from Egypt in order to continue His plan to restore worldwide blessing.
Separation in the Mosaic Covenant
The Mosaic covenant moves God’s rescue mission forward with the central aspect being the Law. God gave the Israelites the Law to guide their conduct and instruct them how to obey Him. The Mosaic Law separated the Israelites from the surrounding nations; it made them distinct. Deuteronomy 28 vividly portrays the blessings that would come upon Israel if they obeyed the covenant. They would be a separated people who would represent the God of Israel to all nations and restore blessing to the world.
Separation in the Book of Leviticus
The book of Leviticus reveals the holiness of God and His desire to separate a holy people for Himself. He urges the Israelites, “You shall be holy to me, for I the Lord am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine.” God’s plan to make the Israelites holy was inextricably linked to separation. The Israelites wouldn’t be holy if they failed to be separate from the surrounding idolatrous nations.
It is vital to highlight why the children of Israel needed to be holy. Naked obedience to the Mosaic Law was not what would fundamentally make them holy and bring blessing. Rather, Leviticus 26:12 displays God’s heart, “And I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people.” The blessing would only come as God’s presence was among His people. His presence was what enlivened and distinguished the chosen people. This is still what makes the people of God distinct today. The call to holiness is a call to separate in order to experience God’s presence. A separated people is equipped to mediate blessing to the world.
Lack of Separation Hindered Worldwide Blessing
Did the children of Israel succeed in being separate and ushering in worldwide blessing? It would be impossible to overstate the catastrophic nature of their failure. In fact, arguably the most graphic chapter in all of Scripture recounts this tragedy, “Not only did you walk in their ways and do according to their abominations; within a very little time, you were more corrupt than they in all your ways.” Repeatedly, the Israelites followed the pagan nations around them rather than separating themselves unto God. Israel’s failure reveals a recurring theme in Scripture: “the pervasiveness and deeply rooted evil in the human heart, and the inability of the law to root out sin.” The Mosaic Law taught Israel how to be separate but it didn’t provide the ability to obey. Moses prophesied that the Israelites needed a heart circumcision to be truly obedient. Jeremiah and Ezekiel prophesied of a day when the Holy Spirit would perform heart surgery on the people of God. In that day, the Israelites would obey God and mediate blessing to the world.
Separated by the Holy Spirit
Paul picks up this theme in Romans 2 where he indicts Israel for failing to represent God to the world. Although they thought they were “a light to those who are in darkness…”, Paul says, “the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” The children of Israel failed to light the world. Therefore, a special Israelite was needed who would represent God to the nations. One who could transform His brothers and sisters into true Jews who were separated by the Spirit.
In the final article, I will explore God’s plan to establish this new, spiritual Israel through separating them from the world. The apostolic vision of a separated church isn’t an attempt to establish walls but rather to restore blessing to the world. Come back to read how the church is vital in fulfilling God’s plan to restore worldwide blessing.
|Timothy Miller currently lives near Sarasota, Florida with his wife Sarah and son Malachi. He enjoys spending time with his family, hunting, woodworking, reading, sports, and traveling. Timothy is passionate about the Bible, truth, and understanding history. His greatest desire is to more intimately know Christ.|
- See especially chapters 11, 12, 40-66
- Schreiner, Thomas R. The King in His Beauty: a Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments (p. 337). Baker Academic, 2013.337
- Isaiah 52-54
- Deuteronomy 7:6
- Leviticus 20:26
- Ezekiel 16:47
- Schreiner, 44
- Deuteronomy 10:16
- Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36
- Romans 2:19b; 24
- Romans 2:29